Negotiating Britishness: the South Africa General Mission

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Columbia Hall 12 (Washington Hilton)
Pamela J. Walker, Carleton University
Negotiating Britishness: the South Africa General Mission

Pamela J. Walker, History Dept., Carleton University, Ottawa Canada

Historians argue that nineteenth century British missionaries always negotiated the tension between Christian universalism and imperial difference when they encountered people they strived to convert. This paper builds on that rich scholarship by examining how British women and men’s understanding of their own race and gender was reshaped by that tension. The South Africa General Mission (SAGM) was a small, non-denominational faith mission that brought British men and women to evangelize in South Africa starting in 1889. Its missionaries set out to “make disciples of all nations” including African, Dutch, British and Jewish people in the midst of this growing empire with its emerging racial laws and practices. The mission’s superintendent, Dudley Kidd, said the greatest difficulty for mission workers was to get along and its records attest to the persistence of differences among them. They reveal theological disputes about the power of faith healing and who possessed the authority to baptize and ordain, alarm about the authority and role of women in the mission, and clashes over how to heed God’s call while also following the regulations of the mission or local authorities. These differences were theological and practical but they also reflected that these British missionaries struggled to ascertain how authority  constituted in Britain ought to be embodied in this very different context. The missionaries all experienced what historian Martha Hodes has called the “mercurial nature and abiding power” of race as they negotiated how to be British and Christian men and women in a South African mission.

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